Today, one of the series of APEC meetings hosted this week by New Zealand focuses on voices of the future. Kiwi participant Sophie Handford wants a strong message delivered.

The words we use matter. Although just talking about the climate crisis isn’t going to fix it, clear words with clear intent, action and accountability can. 

This week, we’ve seen world leaders like the Queen, Pope Francis, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and US President Joe Biden ring the alarm bells about the need to take climate change seriously and transition to a low-carbon future. It feels like the messages young people and indigenous communities have been uniting around are beginning to cut through and shine.

This moment in time is crucial, with the future of the planet hanging in the balance. Pacific communities are experiencing first-hand the effects of unchecked global warming on their homelands. We know young people inherit the decisions made now and we’ll bear the brunt of these decisions in the future. We can choose to be good ancestors and start creating the future we all need, right now.


So, now’s the moment. I couldn’t tell our next generation I knew the reality of the ever-intensifying threat but chose to look the other way. That’s why we started School Strike 4 Climate. Despite being dismissed by some as just kids wanting a few hours off school, we were determined to stand up for our right to a liveable future. We united across generations and we saw 170,000 people take to the streets. 

Now, we have world leaders at COP26, the World Economic Forum and APEC talking about a greener, more sustainable and resilient future. People power works.

I’m paying close attention to these leaders as the window to act on the climate crisis is closing. Real and effective change is long overdue.

This year New Zealand is chairing APEC, a region making up 60 percent of global GDP but also responsible for 60 percent of global emissions. As a trade and economic forum, APEC can show we can be profitable while also centering people and the planet and enabling positive, sustainable outcomes. A siloed focus on economic development is not the way of the future. Social and environmental wellbeing are equally important. 

As an APEC youth delegate this year, I’ve spent the past few weeks discussing these issues alongside other 18 to 24-year-olds from the 21 APEC economies. Collectively, we represent a billion young people across Asia-Pacific, many of them on the frontlines of the impacts of the climate crisis.

We’ve also been talking about the Covid-19 recovery, the digital future and the importance of inclusivity. These opportunities also intersect in numerous ways. For example, if all young people had stable internet access, working and studying from home could become a regular part of life, not just during this pandemic. That, in turn, has the potential to reduce emissions.

In 2021, New Zealand’s leadership of APEC has got mitigation of climate change firmly onto the APEC agenda. As the second smallest economy in APEC, we should be proud of this. While it is concerning it has taken this long, having a region of this size and scale focused on climate change is a move in the right direction. However, this can’t be where it ends.

It is hugely important to ensure everyone is on board the waka. Governments must take into account the perspectives of youth, marginalised groups, indigenous peoples, and disabled peoples to develop climate strategies that work for everyone, not just big business.

That’s why Voices of the Future this week is so important. We’re the ones who will be living with the decisions made today over the coming decades and we have some great suggestions for how the future can be better.

After weeks of lively discussions between the 90-plus Voices delegates, and listening to some incredible speakers such as YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki and United Nations Secretary-General’s Envoy on Youth Jayathma Wickramanayake, we will be presenting our ideas in a Declaration to APEC 2021 Chair, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, on Wednesday evening.

We have been bold in our Declaration and we urge APEC leaders to follow suit.

Nāu te rourou, nāku te rourou, ka ora ai te iwi. With your food basket and my food basket, the people will thrive. Let’s bring our baskets together, to speak and act for the outcomes our people and planet so desperately need.

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